Sunderland have battled their way into a position of immense strength in the battle for survival and can complete the job here, as victory over Everton would see them stay up and condemn Newcastle United and Norwich City to relegation.
For some weeks now it has looked as though this game in hand for the Black Cats would be potentially significant, and the celebrations that will ensue on Wearside should they indeed pull off their umpteenth escape from the threat of Championship football would be among the greatest seen in that part of the world for many a year, especially as their biggest rivals are one of the sides they could send down.
The prospect of safety seemed an unlikely one when Sam Allardyce took over back in October, but he has used all of his top-level managerial experience to make the team hard to beat and with the help of some shrewd signings, turned them into a competitive outfit. That they are still in danger is largely down to the lack of a winning mentality rather than voluminous collection of poor performances, but Saturday’s victory over Chelsea seems to have tipped the balance emphatically in their favour.
And they had to show a huge amount of character in order to get it. Up against a full-strength Blues side they did need that little bit of luck at times such as the odd fortunate deflection, but their level of intent was evident from the start as red and white striped shirts swarmed forward at every opportunity, and it just had to be Jermain Defoe to net the winner.
Confidence will be high among the hosts and they have no reason to fear an Everton side that must now be begging for the season to end as their dismal run shows no sign of coming to a halt. Even the win they did get recently against Bournemouth was marred by a protest by supporters towards manager Roberto Martinez, who was far from happy with his team’s efforts again last time out as they caved in at the home of newly crowned champions Leicester City.
Too many of the players on the day seemed to be caught up in the occasion as their opponents savoured their surprise title win, with a fine late solo goal from Kevin Mirallas doing little to affect the outcome. The game did provide the chance for January signing Oumar Niasse to start a Premier League match for the first time, but just like his Everton career he struggled to get going and missed a good chance early in the second half. It would take some improvement for the Toffees to spoil things for Sunderland here.
Billy Jones should be back available for Sunderland, who have doubts over the fitness of Lamine Kone after he was forced off against Chelsea.
Everton are still unable to call upon captain Phil Jagielka, but Ramiro Funes Mori is back from suspension. Meanwhile, Gareth Barry and Seamus Coleman could be involved after injury.
Last Meeting: There was nothing to separate the sides when they met in November 2014 as draw specialists Sunderland had to settle for a point again. They took the lead thanks to a well-taken free-kick from Sebastian Larsson, but as they defended in numbers in an attempt to preserve their lead, Connor Wickham fouled Seamus Coleman in the area and it was left to Leighton Baines to convert from the spot.
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